SXSW 2011: Source Code

Duncan Jones was probably bombarded with a number of offers to direct a big studio movie following the release and cult success of his directorial debut, “Moon,” but there’s something about his decision to choose “Source Code” as his follow-up that tells you a lot about the kind of filmmaker he hopes to become. To some extent a companion piece to “Moon” in that they’re both morality tales about technology, Jones has succeeded in taking yet another high-concept premise and spinning it into a captivating thriller that’s both incredibly simple in execution and yet brain-teasingly complex the more you pick it apart. A thinking man’s sci-fi film with real mainstream appeal.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Cpt. Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot stationed in Afghanistan who wakes up suddenly to discover he’s riding on a commuter train headed to Chicago. The twist? He’s in the body of a man named Sean Fentress, and before he can figure out what’s going on, the train explodes. But Stevens isn’t actually dead, and when he awakens in a strange capsule seconds later, he’s greeted by a woman named Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), who informs him that he’s part of a military experiment that’s trying to stop a terrorist attack in Chicago. Using a computer program called the Source Code, they can send Stevens’ consciousness into the body of Fentress for the last eight minutes of his life, granting him a unique opportunity to examine the scene of the crime before it even happens, in the hope that he can identify the bomber and prevent a second attack on the city. But as Stevens gets closer to tracking down the culprit with each new pass, he sets his mind on saving his fellow commuters (including Michelle Monaghan), despite the fact that the creator of the Source Code (Jeffrey Wright) tells him it isn’t possible.

source_code

That might sound like an awful lot of information to process, but “Source Code” isn’t nearly as confusing as it lets on. With the exception of one exposition-heavy scene at the beginning of the film that tells you just about everything you need to know, the rest of the movie is split between Stevens’ investigation of the train’s passengers via a time loop that always ends with him dying, and communicating with the people running the mission. Of course, there are several twists and turns along the way, but Jones doesn’t hide his hand particularly well. Two of the film’s biggest revelations are not only predictable, but pretty obvious if you just pay attention, and though it would have ruined a lesser movie, “Source Code” is still engaging even when you know how it will end.

You wouldn’t think that a film about a guy experiencing the same eight minutes over and over again would be very interesting (even “Groundhog Day” took place over the course of a day), but Jones manages to prevent the loop from feeling monotonous by making every trip into the Source Code unique. He also relies greatly on star Jake Gyllenhaal to keep the audience invested, and it’s one of the actor’s best performances to date, providing the character with an Everyman quality that allows him to be serious without being humorless. The rest of the actors are just pawns in the story, but Vera Farmiga does add some depth to the thankless role of Stevens’ sympathetic handler. Not that the movie requires especially strong performances to work, because the real star is Jones himself, who proves here that he’s more than just a one-hit wonder. Your reaction to the movie will ultimately vary based on how you feel about its ending, but for fans of the sci-fi genre and time travel in particular, “Source Code” doesn’t disappoint.

  

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Box office preview: “Harry Potter” to smash strong competition like so many horcruxes

Even though we have four major releases hitting theaters tomorrow for this five day Turkey day weekend, I’m going to keep it short. Especially as, in some respects, this weekend is a foregone conclusion.

On the heels of its boffo $125 million opening weekend, Warner Brothers’ “Harry Potter and the Deathy Hallows: Part One” would have to drop by what I’d think is an unprecedented percentage in its second weekend to get anywhere even close to the $40 million or so jolly Carl DiOrio expects for this week’s new CGI animated comedy based on the fairly tale “Rapunzel,” “Tangled.” The film, which Disney has seemed slightly nervous about, marks the final bow for the Disney princess brand and fairy tale adaptations for some time, we’re told, and the studio has been trying hard to sell it to males.

Though I might personally prefer my princesses 2D and traditionally animated, the tale has enraptured most critics and our David Medsker is rather sweet on it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it over perform — not because the people listen to critics but because the critics are (mostly) people. Maybe it’s a bit early to retire the whole fairy tale princesses thing.

Also looking strong and with definite female appeal — though plenty of PG-13 level under-clothed attractive women are on offer for ogling males — is the apparently deliberately hoaky musical, “Burlesque.” Though the film is getting some guilty pleasure semi-love from Jason Zingale, it’s not getting the guilt-ridden love of critics over all, not that it will matter for a movie, fans of Cher and Christina Aguilera and glitz will show. Fans of rom-coms, however might not show as  much for Edward Zwick’s attempt at something a bit more biting than the usual in the genre, Fox’s “Love and Other Drugs.” Any Oscar hopes for the Jake Gyllenhaal/Anne Hathaway pairer seem beyond remote in the face of unimpressive reviews. and I suspect this is the kind of movie that actually needs to be good to do terribly well. Still, the considerable charisma of its two stars and the lack of adult-skewing date-type movies might help it achieve its rather modest expectations.

Bringing up the possible rear, or maybe not, is the relatively lowish budget actioner starring Dwayne Johnson, “Faster.” Though I enjoyed interviewing director George Tillman, Jr., the movie has received little critical applause, not that it particularly needs it. It’s possible, however, that considering the lack of action-fare right now, males might want to smell what Tilman, the ex-Rock, and a strong supporting cast are cooking. I’m sure CBS Films would find that delicious.

Dwayne Johnson is going

  

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“Please, can’t I at least save the hot one?”

In what looks like another engaging science fiction drama from Duncan Jones (“Moon“), Jake Gyllenhaal is forced to relive the same unfortunate eight minutes, via computer-assisted time-travel, in search of a railway bomber in “Source Code.” For some reason, he seems to want to save Michelle Monaghan from her already past death. The rest of the passengers on the train aren’t weighing on his mind as much. Jeffrey Wright and Vera Farmiga costar.

Thanks to noted writer, cartoonist, and filmmaker Peet Gelderblom for this one.

  

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Once again, it’s Red-Band trailer time: “Love and Other Drugs”

I don’t know whether it’s the liberating effect of the magic naughty NSFW red band, but this trailer is a lot more fun than other trailers for this possible awards contender I vaguely recall seeing and ignoring.

“Love and Other Drugs” is the latest from the reliably engaging and Oscar-friendly, but also wildly uneven director Edward Zwick (“Glory,” “The Last Samurai,” “Courage Under Fire,” “Blood Diamond“), who sadly tends to sell his own material short but occasionally makes really solid movies. The director’s latest has Zwick getting closer to his “30 Something” roots with an apparently fact based tale of a horndog Viagra salesmen played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who might have been born for a part like this, and Anne Hathaway who, whether she means to or not, presents an outstanding argument for monogamy.


Love and Other Drugs – Exclusive Red Band Trailer – Watch more Movie Trailers

  

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Will “Sex and the City 2” achieve the big $ on Memorial Day?

And will we writers run out of double entendres in describing whether or not the latest adventures of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and friends enjoys a satisfactory, long-lasting ticket-buying performance from their ardent audience or will it be just a case of “slam-bang-opening-weekend’s-over-ma’am?” Nope. Nor will the bad reviews “Sex and the City 2” has been getting significantly dampen the ardor of ticket buyers.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth in

In fact, the film is already doing rather well, as it opened early to get a jump on the long Memorial Day weekend, making $3 million on Wednesday night/Thursday morning midnight shows for the R-rated comedy from Warner Brothers. Both jolly Carl DiOrio and Anne Thompson’s b.o. guy, Anthony D’Alessandro, are bullish. Jolly Carl is talking about $60 million. I have no clue except that every “Sex and the City” fan will want to see it — once, anyway.

Nevertheless, as someone who managed to avoid the original show almost completely, it is a bit of shock to see this kind of vituperation directed against a property that was once a well-reviewed award-winner. I wasn’t too surprised when the first film got mixed reviews, since the show did have more than it’s share of detractors, but the 14% “fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes critics as a whole, and devastating 7% from 26 “top critics” so far is a bit of a movie cold shower. The bad reviews even inspired a bottom 10 list at Salon. Matt Zoeller Seitz, like our own Jason Zingale, notes the film’s lengthy sequence in Abu Dabi — which he terms “product placement for a country” (even though it was shot elsewhere) and titles his review: “Ladies and Gentleman, THIS is Why They hate us.” That’s about as positive as his review gets. He’s almost loving compared to the brilliant review by Lindy West:

SATC2 takes everything that I hold dear as a woman and as a human—working hard, contributing to society, not being an entitled cunt like it’s my job—and rapes it to death with a stiletto that costs more than my car. It is 146 minutes long, which means that I entered the theater in the bloom of youth and emerged with a family of field mice living in my long, white mustache.

That one of the nicer parts. I suggest, no, I implore that you read every word.

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